How MTV Is Trying to Reinvent Itself to Combat Sinking Ratings and …

July 18, 2015 - Finding Carter

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On a Tuesday dusk in April, during MTV’s annual upfront presentation, a channel that introduced a universe to Jackass and Snooki put something onscreen that repelled even a cloyed assembly of promotion executives: elves. Specifically, MTV showed a trailer for The Shannara Chronicles, a intemperate TV instrumentation of a array of swords-and-sorcery novels by Terry Brooks, that will premiere in Jan 2016. Filmed in New Zealand and filled with Gothic costumes, Shannara looks some-more like a Lord of a Rings cinema than anything on MTV, and it has a bill to compare — it’s a many costly array a channel has ever made, according to an executive.

MTV could mount a small witchcraft. This season, a primetime programming reached about 40 percent fewer viewers in a 12-to-34 aim demo than it did 5 years ago, according to Nielsen. Perhaps some-more importantly, a channel lacks a dermatitis strike that defines a sensibility. Interest in a kind of ungodly existence shows that came to browbeat MTV’s report is fading, and, during 23, The Real World is comparison than a aim audience. “Big shows are once in a few years for any network,” says John Janedis, equity researcher during Jefferies. “It’s apropos harder to have pound hits.”

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Much of MTV’s ratings difficulty comes from a ubiquitous decrease in examination live TV — altogether viewership of ad-supported wire has forsaken by about 10 percent, and channels that aim younger demographics are down more. The channel’s many renouned show, Teen Mom, gets roughly 2 million 12-to-34 viewers a week, though that’s a third of what Jersey Shore did in a heyday. Its slightest renouned shows, like Snack-Off, strech fewer than 400,000 in a same demographic. “You can get a bigger assembly with an Instagram post than we can on some MTV shows,” says Barry Lowenthal, boss of The Media Kitchen, a formulation and shopping agency.

Now, MTV is perplexing to reinvent itself, as it has several times in a past. In February, Van Toffler, boss of MTV Networks Music and Logo Group, declined to replenish his agreement and announced he was withdrawal to start a new company. MTV’s corporate parent, Viacom, total MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Spike and Logo into a Viacom Music and Entertainment Group underneath Doug Herzog, 56, who formerly ran a multiplication that enclosed Comedy Central and Spike. More than 200 staffers were laid off, including Dave Sirulnick, a reputable maestro who ran MTV News. The channel faces some-more foe than ever, from wire outlets including ABC Family, online video startups such as AwesomenessTV and even youth-culture brands like Vice. Viacom’s batch has forsaken some-more than 25 percent during a past year, and a new Bloomberg Businessweek cover story trumpeted a company’s “Midlife Crisis.” Its destiny also involves difficult questions about who will succeed Sumner Redstone, Viacom’s executive chairman, who is now 92.

“It’s a ideal storm,” says a former MTV programming executive. “The assembly is going digital, existence TV is using dry, there’s some-more foe for scripted programs. we feel for a executives there.”

For a initial dual decades, MTV built a business on strain videos and a code on teen rebellion. Even as a channel changed divided from videos toward half-hour programs that drew steadier ratings, shows like Beavis and Butthead focused on shrill strain and lifted center fingers. Later, as videos became easier to find elsewhere, MTV entered a Silver Age — roughly from a late ’90s until a few years ago — leveraging a sensibility and relations with stone stars (The Osbournes, Jessica Simpson) and camera-savvy brats (Jackass, The Hills) into shows that brilliantly incited excess, snark, voyeurism and complacency into must-see TV. The channel became a heavenly of Madison Avenue, many as Vice is today.

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MTV was so successful that it arguably remade TV in a possess image. Reality shows about oddballs pity a residence became a cliche, many dramas underline cocktail songs, and strain programs such as Empire and Lip Sync Battle are commonplace. If a sensibility is so widespread, how does MTV conclude itself? What does it mount for?

MTV boss Stephan Friedman, 45, believes partial of a answer lies in serialized scripted series. “Because a universe is dim and complicated, a assembly wants difficult entertainment,” says Friedman from his atmospheric office, where one wall has 3 flatscreen TVs personification Viacom channels. It doesn’t harm that serialized shows mostly have essential second lives on Amazon and Netflix.

In late 2012, Friedman and Toffler hired as boss of programming Susanne Daniels, 50, who oversaw such shows as Felicity and Buffy a Vampire Slayer during The WB (now The CW). So distant during MTV, her record on scripted array is mixed: Daniels has a medium strike with Finding Carter, though another play she green-lit, Eye Candy, was canceled after a year. Although Shannara might demeanour like it could run on Syfy, showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar done Superman’s teen years a strike with The CW’s Smallville, and Daniels says a show’s themes — of traffic with doubt and operative together — will feel informed to an MTV audience. “I wish to do original, singular shows that simulate what a code stands for,” says Daniels, only behind from introducing Shannara during San Diego ComicCon. “There are 350 scripted array on a air, and in that universe it’s a severe thing to accomplish.”

MTV’s many sparkling new shows don’t engage music, and a channel hasn’t played many videos for years. In 2010, it forsaken “Music Television” from a logo. But Herzog is a strain fan with story during a channel — he launched MTV News in a ’80s. And he allocated Erik Flannigan, who has a strain background, to run digital operations during Viacom Music and Entertainment Group, and manipulate music. Friedman says MTV promotes acts like MisterWives, an alt-pop rope whose “Vagabond” became a thesis of Finding Carter — and who played during a channel’s upfront event. But a half-dozen tag executives interviewed for this story staid a obvious: The channel doesn’t have nearby a promotional energy it once did. “MTV can’t make a strain a strike like it used to,” says blogger Perez Hilton. “But a Video Music Awards are still a applicable pop-culture eventuality in a strain world.”

MTV’s fortunes might be some-more tied to those of a broader wire TV industry, that has never had some-more aptitude — nonetheless ratings are down from new highs. For a past decade, as robbery threatened a strain and film industries, TV enjoyed a Golden Age, fueled by augmenting wire fees as good as advertising. Now both of those income streams are underneath pressure: Online observation poses a plea to a wire subscription model, and ratings are plummeting. Even Comedy Central, on a prohibited strain with shows like Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer, has had a ratings decrease of 30 percent in a initial entertain of this year compared with 2014 among a aim demographic of 18 to 34-year-old men. However, many viewers are examination a same shows, only not on TV: Between 65 and 70 percent of a assembly for MTV hits like Finding Carter watches them on DVR, on direct or online, that aren’t prisoner in same-day Nielsen ratings. “Audiences are still examination MTV,” says Friedman. “They’re only doing it on their phones and their laptops as well.”​

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Viacom executives have generally seen online observation as a hazard — one that hits a association generally tough since it depends some-more on adsupported wire than any other media conglomerate. There’s a reason they strengthen those wire fees, that volume to between 40 and 45 cents per subscriber per month for MTV alone: They beget many of a company’s substantial profit. Since 2011, Viacom’s handling domain has grown from 25.8 percent to 29.9 percent. But a past hostility to put some-more programming online has helped emanate a order between producers who wish a biggest probable assembly for their shows and “the 52nd floor” — of Viacom domicile during 1515 Broadway in New York, where chairman/CEO Philippe Dauman and other tip executives have offices. (Viacom has put a few of a shows on YouTube, that it sued for copyright transgression in a box that was staid in 2014.)

Although Redstone reportedly dismissed former Viacom arch executive Tom Freston in 2005 for unwell to buy Myspace, a association hasn’t done many confidant moves online, either, as Disney did when it bought Maker Studios. The categorical problem with MTV’s digital plan wasn’t that executives didn’t have good ideas about how to take a association online, according to several former staffers — a association only didn’t hang with them. In 2006, MTV launched Urge, a Spotify-style strain subscription service, afterwards apparently motionless it would take too prolonged to strech profitability; it forsaken from steer after being spun off into a apart association in 2010. MTV also set adult an online video plan with Vice Media in 2007, 6 years before 21st Century Fox bought 5 percent of a association for $70 million. “Viacom has been resistant to change,” says an eccentric writer who creates shows for MTV. “Now it’s profitable a price.”

MTV’s destiny could count on Daniels and a success of splashy array including Shannara. The channel non-stop a upfront display with a preview of Scream, a serialized reboot of a fear films that premiered Jun 30 to important though unexciting ratings. There was noticeably reduction unrestrained for some-more normal MTV transport like Follow a Rules, a existence uncover about Ja Rule and his family.

After a Shannara preview screened, MTV horde Charlamagne Tha God joked to a upfront assembly that “with a name like that, it should unequivocally be starring a black girl.” There’s a informative opening there: If shows like Shannara succeed, how will they redefine a values of a channel that has always been famous for a teen spirit? “The uncover looks positively spectacular,” says a former programming executive, who saw a trailer. “But we’re all wondering if it means a genocide of a brand.”

This story initial seemed in a July 24 emanate of Billboard.

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